Just a few weeks ago, a group of 21 leaders from 12 JCCs embarked on a Jewish journey, which began at David Ben Gurion’s burial place in Israel’s desert and ended in modern Tel Aviv. This journey was part of JCC Association’s Boarding Pass initiative, which encourages JCCs to be the lead organization within their communities on all Israel experiences for JCC members.
JCC Association’s connections with the Land of Israel have never been stronger, deeper, and more significant than they are these days. Israel and its relationship to JCCs and overseas Jewish communities is one of JCC Association’s top five priorities. The JCC Movement Vision and Statement of Principles for the 21st Century states that “Israel is an eternal birthright of the Jewish people, linking us to our past and to Jews around the world today.”
Our journey took us through Israel’s wonders, as reflected in its innovation, creativity, history, spirituality, vitality and complexity. Throughout our journey, we met Israeli soldiers in different capacities, not as they are usually seen in the media. Deep in the Negev desert we lit Hanukkah candles with Israeli officers at Israel’s prestigious officers training base: BHD1, where every army officer gets his commission after long weeks of training and practice. This training program represents Israel’s diversity: kibbutzim members train along with the residents of development towns, side by side with those who come from affluent communities. Sabras work next to lone soldiers who left their families behind and newcomers who immigrated from across the Jewish world, including the former Soviet Union, Europe, North America and Ethiopia, Jews, Druze and Arabs, secular Israelis and observant Israelis, men and women. These young cadets represent Israel’s creme de la creme: Zionists who are passionate about serving the Jewish State.
During our visit, we discussed leadership and vision with some of these soldiers and their commanders, and witnessed how the Israeli army broadens the word commander to a much more comprehensive term. IDF commanders are trained to lead by example as human beings, to demonstrate friendship, civil responsibility, brotherhood and caring, to understand why and for what they are fighting, and not just with what.
Then, in Jerusalem, we lit Shabbat candles as part of a lovely Friday night dinner with Israel Air Force pilots and airmen. This special program offers a Jewish experience to soldiers for whom celebrating Shabbat is not part of their family ritual. Again, we witnessed Israel’s army enhancing broader values, and including Jewish values as part of each soldier’s training.
On our way to Tel Aviv, we visited Israel’s state-of-the-art aerospace Industries for a glimpse into one of Israel’s most sophisticated industries, impacting both the local and the international marketplace.
Throughout our trip we explored ”Israel Beyond the Conflict”: We met young Israeli students who choose to live in Israel’s peripheral towns and strengthen developing communities. We learned of the amazing agricultural achievements in Israel’s desert. We learned about Israeli society through films. We danced, cooked, read poetry and rode bicycles together, and overall, experienced Israel beyond the conflict.
Right after the group left, nature proved that Israel is absorbed by the same subject as everyone else—the weather. A historic storm stopped for a visit and kept Jerusalem, Safed, and the Golan Heights under siege for over three days. Some of the soldiers we met are no doubt busy evacuating civilians to hospitals and shelters, and the weather is the only thing people care and talk about.
Our Fam trip participants experienced the beauty and wonders of Israel—even without the snow–and discussed Jewish identity, peoplehood and our role as the JCC Movement in connecting our members with Israel and Israelis.
Our Hanukkah flames may have differed in color and brightness. Some may have danced cheerfully while other stood steady. The brightness of all the flames across the Jewish world reminds us that although we may differ, our miraculous being will continue to shine bright, and we shall be a light to all the nations.
Leah Garber, Vice-President, JCC Israel Center